Greg Jouriles said:
We have the grade problem at my high school. In the same course or department, a B in one classroom might be an A, or even a C, in another. It’s a problem for us, and, likely, a problem in most schools.
But it has also been an opportunity. Recognizing our grading differences, we opted to create a common conception of achievement, our graduate profile, and department learning outcomes with rubrics. Our standards now align closely with the Common Core State Standards. Second, we created common performance tasks that measure these standards and formative assessments that scaffold to them. Third, we look together at student work. Fourth, we have begun to grade each other’s students on these common tasks.
We could publish the results of these performance tasks, and the public would have a good idea of what we’re good at and what we’re not. For example, our students effectively employ reading strategies to comprehend a text, but are often stymied by a lack of vocabulary or complex syntax. We’ve also learned most of our students can coherently develop a claim, citing the appropriate evidence to support it when choosing from a restricted universe of data. They aren’t as good when the universe of data is broadened. They are mediocre at analysis, counter-arguments, rebuttals, and evaluation of sources, though they have recently gotten better at evaluating sources as we have improved our instruction and formative assessments. A small percentage of our students do not show even basic competency in reading and writing.
That’s better information than we’ve ever received from standardized testing. What’s also started to happen is that teachers who use the same standards and rubrics, assign the same performance tasks, and grade each other’s work are finding their letter grades starting to align.
And, this approach has led to a lot of frank discussions. For example, why are grades different? Where we have looked, different conceptions of achievement and rigor seem most important. So we have to talk about it. The more we do, the more aligned we will become, and the more honest picture of achievement we can create. It has been fantastic professional development – done without external mandates. We have a long way to go, but we can understand the value of our efforts and see improvement in student work.